The Grey Edge: Chapter Twenty-Eight

Magnolia stared at her mother as she entered the room. ‘You-’
‘Before you speak, daughter, let me remind you that if I find you annoying, I will simply make you sleep again.’
‘Take these fucking cuffs off me.’
‘Don’t tire your mouth out, daughter, you’re going to need it later.’

‘You’re serious, aren’t you? You expect me to fuck one of my siblings and bear your heir?’
‘At the least.’
‘And that’s what it will take for you to release me?’
‘This is your duty, Magnolia.’
‘My duty is to Agent Taylor and to the Agency, not to you, no matter what you say.’
‘I had hoped this would be when you joined the flock. You will be one of the most important figures in recent history, the mother of the new beginning.’
‘Yeah, that’s me, the virgin fucking Mary.’
‘Do you have no interest in your child?’
She stared at her mother. ‘It won’t be my child.’
‘You’ve always disappointed me, Magnolia.’
‘I’m glad.’
‘If it is what you want, I will cut you off once the egg is laid. Do as your brother wishes without complaint, conceive my heir, and your obligation to me will be over, I won’t bother you again.’
‘Do you promise?’
‘My interest in you begins and ends with what you can create. If you wish to throw your life away as a recruit, then do, I will no longer care.’
‘Swear it on blood,’ she hissed.
‘Consider it sworn. You will be free to continue to be my biggest disappointment and fuck that sub-sentient oaf.’
She froze, there was no way that-
‘Good to see that you aren’t denying it.’
She glared at her mother, there was no way that she could know, there was no way that anyone could have known – aside from possibly the Parkers. She’d only had him for a night, not even that, so little time, and somehow her mother knew-
Her mother didn’t know, her mother assumed. It was a correct assumption, so no need to deny, but there was no need to sprout poetry either. Poetry would be dangerous.
‘Agents do tend,’ she said noncommittally, ‘to take advantage.’
‘And you would go back to that?’
‘Warm food, warm bed, carte blanche to declare myself the law?’ she forced a pragmatic grin onto her face. ‘Yes mother, the perks make up for sucking his tiny cock and declaring him a god.’
‘You are confusing, daughter. You will be the mother of the new warden, accept your family and you’ll be treated as royalty.’
She rattled her cuffs. ‘I’d rather be his bitch.’
‘As you wish,’ Magpie said. ‘Yes. Do as I say and as your brother says, and I will release you.’
‘Already sworn on blood, Magnolia.’
‘Then I need to speak with the agent. If you are depriving him of his aide, then I need five minutes to-’
‘Suck him off once more to assure him of your fealty?’
‘Discuss paperwork,’ she said, ‘he’s all brawn, no brain, his department will fall apart without me.’
‘All the more reason to do as I wish.’
‘So let me see him.’
Magpie touched the cuffs and they popped open. She stared at her mother as she sat up. Tear out her mother’s throat, it would be so easy to-
‘Daughter,’ Magpie said, claws digging into her upper arm, ‘when you are this close, I can tell when you intend me harm.’
‘How could you think that I intend you anything else?’
‘I am being more than reasonable,’ her mother said, ‘with you and with your agent. I’m gifting two of your sisters to him for a year, just so that he doesn’t miss you.’
‘That is generous mother,’ she said, ‘especially for you who hates Agents so much.’
‘They are unimportant, expendable,’ Magpie said, ‘I will not miss them.’
‘Make one of them the heir’s mother!’
‘No, they aren’t good enough. They were good enough to stand in and sate Mordred in your stead, but not good enough to birth the new warden.’
‘You see nothing wrong with your actions, do you?’
‘I am the warden of this family, my actions are beyond contestation.’
‘And if the new warden was to question you?’
‘It won’t.’
‘You seem sure of yourself.’ She sighed. ‘How long should I tell the agent that I’ll be away?’
Magpie seemed to consider this for a moment. ‘What method of contraception do you use, Magnolia?’
‘Everyone I fuck wears a rubber.’
‘Be assured that Mordred will make no such sacrifice, and other than that, obviously.’
‘I’m on the pill, mother.’
‘Then my doctor will have to spend some time with you and flush that from your system.’
‘How long?’ she asked again.
‘A week at least to do that, then however long it takes you to conceive. We can do a surgical extraction after a few weeks, then about three months for it to hatch. Plan for a six-month sabbatical from your beloved Agency.’
‘Six months? I hope I’ll still have a job when I go back. I assume I can expect a similar quality of life to what I’m used to?’
‘You will be Mordred’s plaything, daughter, his…and whatever pecking order he wishes to establish with your brothers. Other than that, you won’t be mistreated. I need my heir’s mother to be healthy.’
‘Yes mother, of course.’
Her mother motioned to the door. ‘You can see your agent now.’
As soon as they were in the hall, three guards joined them – keeping a respectful distance, but still close enough to stop her if she broke into a run, or did turn to tear out her mother’s throat.
She had expected the guest room to be close, it wasn’t, and it was a lot further than she had thought – the Court was far bigger than she had suspected. The walk though, was good, after being so weak and incapacitated for so much of the last day, it felt good to be moving.
And being conscious and alert let her play the counting game.
Her mother finally stopped walking, and pushed open a door to a large room. Taylor was there. Harmed. Bleeding from the face. He sat across the room in a large, red chair with one of her sisters pawing at him, the twitch in his right eye telling her he was very close to committing violence to calm himself. Another of her sisters sat on a chaise lounge, slowly masturbating, her eyes focused on nothing.
Taylor’s eyes flicked to look at her, but he made no move to stand, his only movement was to slap away the advances of her sister when she came too close.
She turned to her mother. ‘Get those whores out of here, and bring us some food, and something to drink. I’ll also need a pen and paper, you want what you want, I need the time to organise my real life.’
‘As you wish, daughter, I can be reasonable.’
‘Really mother? When have you ever proved that?’
‘You two,’ Magpie snapped at her sisters, ‘out.’
The door was closed as they left, but that was nothing but a false sense of security, of seclusion. They were alone, but she couldn’t believe that they were unobserved.
‘Reasonable?’ Taylor said. ‘Your mother is anything but.’
‘Reasonable, sir,’ she said, ‘is in the eyes of the beholder. You thought it was a reasonable recruitment test to see how loud I could scream while you fucked me up the ass.’
A lie. A clue. A trigger to set the tone of the conversation.
‘And you were disappointing,’ he said as she sat down across from him, careful to avoid any residue left by her sister.
‘Six months, sir,’ she said, ‘is how long she expects this to take.’
He lifted a hand to wipe at the bleeding cuts. ‘Unacceptable.’
‘The sooner I conceive, the sooner I am allowed to leave.’
He scratched his cheek with two fingers. Two fingers. No.
She pushed at the hem of her skirt with two fingers, agreeing with him.
‘She’s sworn on blood to release me after I do this.’
‘And you trust her?’
She brushed her hair back with two fingers, but didn’t let her doubt show. ‘She will have what she wants,’ she said, ‘I won’t be of any more use to her.’
‘And if she just kills you, recruit, once you’ve outlived your usefulness?’
‘She wouldn’t,’ she said, ‘she’s not you.’
She hated herself for saying it. It was the truth of the matter, but it was so far from the real truth. He was going to kill her, assuredly, but for a purpose…for her purpose, and she loved him for that. Uselessness was not a state she would allow herself to return to.
Honour came and honour went, honour didn’t allow you to stab your enemies in the back as she enjoyed so much. Purpose, on the other hand, kept you getting up in the morning, kept you breathing when your body had given up on you, and kept you glaring at a man when you wanted nothing more than to kiss him.
‘The point remains,’ she said.
‘Six months,’ he said flatly. ‘You expect to come back then?’
‘I could try civilian life again,’ she said, ‘and wait for you to beg me to come back.’
He stood, closed the distance and slapped her across the face. ‘Don’t talk to me like that.’
‘You’ll beg,’ she said as he raised his hand to hit her again. ‘Your department would fall apart without me.’
The department would – and by proxy, he would. Her new capacity as his lover, that wasn’t important. Love was for after duty, after the work was done. Sex was the reward for a job well done.
Without him, he wouldn’t even be able to file a AS-1338 – a request for a new aide. It had been a miracle that he’d been able to find the right combination of paperwork to promote her in the first place – though she did suspect it had been a case of stalking through the tech department late at night, finding one of the geeks that had been separated from the herd, trapping them in a corner and intimidating them into requiring the right forms.
If she wasn’t there, he would have to ask for help, and that was far from his strong suit. The rest of the department, the recruits that were probably just beginning to wake up, not sure if they still had jobs, would be kept by default – just so that there was a chance that he could attempt to use one of them to replace her.
Worry about that, though, was highly situational, and not worth her time or energy just yet.
He slapped her again, and retreated back to his chair.
There was a knock at the door, and a young man walked in, dropped a pad of paper on the table, along with a few pens, and left, muttering about the food being on its way.
She moved up to the table, taking up the pen, idly processing its viability to be repurposed as a weapon. She pulled the paper towards her and began to write. Duty rosters and notes, reminders and schedules, normal aide work that would go into her workbook.
He joined her, giving his usual look of disinterest that came with any discussion of paperwork. Well, any discussion of paperwork that wasn’t a discussion of her leaving the Agency.
Part of her wanted to know what would have happened had the conversation happened any sooner, or if it had been the stress and near-death experiences that had made him…made him…
Made him chance being labeled a traitor. Made him ignore his duty for her. Unthinkable, un-Taylor-like actions.
And the sex hadn’t even been that great. Not in terms of technique. Emotionally…emotionally it had been the best fuck of her life, but technically he was…unadventurous, more like an informed virgin than anything else. It was understandable, but still objectively, technically, not that great.
And by the gods, they were going to escape, so that he could practice, so that he could work on his technique, and so that-
She needed to focus.
She still wanted to kiss him.
‘Regarding my remuneration-’ she began.
‘The month expires on the seventeenth.’
Seventeen? Not quite right.
‘No sir,’ she said, ‘the twenty-third.’
He stared across at her. ‘You’re sure?’
‘Yes sir, the twenty-third.’
He accepted this without further argument.
‘That of course,’ she said, ‘is separate from my allotted holidays.’
‘I assumed,’ he said with a growl.
The door opened as a large trolley was pushed in. The attendant, whose green hair spoke either of a non-human father or a poor choice in dye colour, lifted the lid from a large silver platter, bowed, and left without a word.
A disgusting smell hit her nose. A familiar smell. Something she had smelled the day before, in Ben Thomas’ apartment: the smell of cooked human flesh.
‘Gods.’ She stood and stared at the platter.
It was an arm.
She lifted the platter, carried it to the corner, dropping it without skill, and stared at it for a moment, before pulling a half dozen feathers from her arm and dropping them.
She had done it before. Once. She could do it again. Hate, hate had been the trigger, if only an accidental one. Hatred for Mimosa, hatred for an abomination that they dared give rank and privilege. The explosion had been powerful enough to make an agent bleed, so surely it was powerful enough for this.
She focused on her hatred of her mother, and the feathers exploded – likely ripping themselves apart with the same force that had blown Ben Thomas apart. The “meal” and its tray were reduced to a pile of much smaller pieces, and ash – it was as much of a burial as she could give, and at least it would stop anyone from eating it.
Taylor grunted as she turned. ‘One of the missing salmon?’
‘I would assume so, sir.’
‘You were right then, they’re dead.’
‘Whatever remains is probably hung on hooks in a freezer.’
She inspected the rest of the trolley’s content. ‘The bread is probably safe,’ she said, ‘looks store-bought, same for the butter. The tea is suspect though.’
‘You’re telling me things I already know.’
‘Sorry sir,’ she said as she pulled the items from the tray – the plastic butter knife speaking of her mother’s lack of trust. ‘Want some?’
‘The tea.’ She passed across a paper cup and the pot.
She cautiously buttered herself a slice of bread. It was silly to eat, especially now. Silly to trust food from her mother. Silly to be waylaid by frailties…but facts were what they were, and aside from what she’d eaten of the obligated-to-be-horrible infirmary food, it had been far too long since her last meal.
She pulled the crusts from the bread, and slowly ate it whilst her commander stared at the pot of tea.
She finished the piece of bread, and read his face: he was ready.
‘If that’s everything, then, Agent Taylor?’
He gave another grunt, and she pushed the pad of notes across to him, then stood and banged on the door.
A guard pulled the door open, and she pointed to Taylor. ‘I’m done with him now, if you want to escort him to the exit of this godsforsaken place?’
The guard stepped into room. ‘If you’ll-’
‘Yes,’ Taylor said, interrupting as he stood, ‘I’m coming.’
‘Do you need to take a piss first?’
Taylor reached out, and snapped the guard’s neck. She felt the tiniest bit of pity – they’d been terrible last words.
She knelt and stripped him of his weapons – one gun with no spare clip and a pitiful, short knife that had likely come from an army disposal store. Taylor returned to the table and grabbed the pot of tea.
‘One,’ he said.
‘Twenty-two more,’ she confirmed, ‘at least by my count.’
‘Your mother-’
‘Can go fuck, sir, I am not her damn property, I don’t care what fae law says.’
Another magpie – a guard, though judging by the sandwich in his hand, one on his break – came out of the room to their right. He stared for a moment, then began to shout, and earned a pot of scalding tea to the face for his efforts.
Taylor swung the pot and slammed it across the man’s face, the shards of ceramic digging into his burnt face. He collapsed, screaming, but a kick from Taylor’s boot silenced him.
‘Two,’ he said, ‘which way?’
She looked, then pointed to the comforting light of the green exit sign. She passed him the gun, silently willed the knife to become a better weapon, then followed her commander towards the exit.